We’ve seen it far too often. A young promising flamethrower emerges onto the scene and dominates in historical fashion. Sadly, many of these future stars with so much talent suffer career threatening arm ailments . Injuries such as ulnar collateral ligament (UCL tears)-also referred to as Tommy John surgery in the elbow- and less common but potentially more serious rotator cuff tears and labrum tears(SLAP tears) in the shoulder. Although a good portion of these pitchers have come back with similar success if not BETTER than before, there have and will continue to be many young pitchers with bright futures that fall victim to one of these injuries far too soon.
The question on the mind of pitching coaches, team doctors and parents of youth baseball players is how do we prevent this from happening. The truth is that some of these arm injuries are inevitable because of the amount of arm speed these young pitchers are generating. We have never seen starting pitchers throw 95-100 MPH over the course of a 6 inning outing. However, it is important especially for younger pitchers to learn how to generate power with their lower body to remove some of that burden from their arm.
Over the course of my playing and coaching career, by far the most common tendency I’ve observed is for a young pitcher to “fly open” with their front side prematurely during the release. Biomechanically, this is very easy to do for an athlete who has not refined their mechanics. By “flying open” the pitcher uses primarily upper body to generate power instead of completing back leg drive and utilizing the entire body, especially lower, to create the velocity. Flying open puts tremendous pressure on the arm because the elbow and shoulder are absorbing the brunt of the force produced in the delivery. Instead, completing proper leg drive will relieve stress on the arm, and allow the pitcher to release the ball closer to the plate. This proper use of lower body mechanics will not only naturally add velocity (since the distance the ball needs to travel is less), it will improve accuracy and allow the pitcher to hit desired location more consistently.
The first thing I preach to any young pitcher is to build their leg and core strength as soon as possible. Since using our legs requires a strong lower half, it makes sense why younger pitchers have the most difficulty with this concept. Their bodies have not yet fully matured, and it takes a powerful lower half to consistently repeat the correct mechanics .
There are several training aids that enable young pitchers to develop the correct “muscle memory” in order to train more effectively. One of my favorites is “The Pitchers Power Drive” developed by The Pitchers Power Drive Company. Essentially, it is a metal pendulum placed in front of the mound that “clicks” whenever the right amount of force is generated on the backside throughout the delivery. This requires the pitcher to lead with their front hip, keep their front side closed, and stay on their backside a little longer in order to allow a more explosive and effective leg drive. The important thing to realize is that when a pitcher reaches their leg lift, there is no rush to begin the release. We need to load our hips and properly distribute the weight in our lower half before we continue to the plate. The Pitchers Power Drive does a terrific job of teaching this ,and results of anywhere between 5-10 mph gains in pitchers who have trained with it are not uncommon. The most effective way to improve and sustain any pitcher’s performance is not having a coach preach to them about what they should be doing, it’s providing them the tools to develop the correct muscle memory so they can learn on their own. The Pitchers Power Drive provides the positive reinforcement that enables proper habits to prevent future injuries and maximize results on the mound.
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